Lack of Sleep Leads to Depression in Teens

Many teenagers have irregular or disrupted sleep patterns. Their brains are growing fast and they need quality sleep to restore the body, consolidate memory, and allow further brain development. Not getting enough sleep is often brushed off as just “typical adolescent behavior” but research indicates that lack of sleep is related to depression.

The University of Adelaide has more evidence to link insomnia in teens and the onset of mental health conditions. Insomnia was independently linked with depression, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder among teens.teen girl sleep depression

Teens in the study who were more active in the evenings were more likely to have depression and/or insomnia. This group was also more likely to have obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, and social phobia, although these disorders were often not independently linked with insomnia. According to researchers “There is a growing awareness among the scientific community that insomnia, depression and anxiety disorders are linked with each other, and these disorders contain overlapping neurobiological, psychological, and social risk factors.”

“People with insomnia find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep for as long as they need to. This is a widespread sleep disorder among the general public, and in most countries about 11% of teens aged 13-16 years, experience insomnia at some stage,” says Mr. Alvaro, a lead researcher on the study. “Having insomnia in addition to anxiety or depression can further intensify the problems being experienced with each individual disorder. It can lead to such problems as alcohol and drug misuse during adolescence,” he says.

Symptoms of Insomnia and Sleep Deprivation in Teens

Insomnia signs and symptoms in teens are more common than you might think, but many parents don’t see the signs. The National Sleep Foundation polled teenagers on sleep and discovered that nearly half of those teens polled measured in ranges considered “depressive” and most reported that they experienced stress on a regular basis. Depression has been found to be a major factor in insomnia.

  • Complain about inability to go to sleep, stay asleep or waking too early in the morning
  • Irritability
  • Aggressive
  • Severe moodiness
  • Feel constantly tired
  • Binge eating or loss of appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • Clumsiness
  • Tardiness or absenteeism at school and/or on a job

Often neurotransmitter depletion is evident in teens who have depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. Through testing, one can find what neurotransmitters are out of balance and get relief through amino acid therapy. Sleep hygiene is also helpful.

Sleep hygiene includes setting regular bedtime hours, elimination of caffeine or sugar in drinks or food before bed, creating a relaxation or transition time between activity and bed, eliminating television, video games and computer use while getting ready for bed, regulating diet and exercise.

Even though your teen may love the idea of sleeping until noon on the weekends, in many cases it causes more disruption. In many cases creating a regular bedtime schedule and other routines can quickly relieve insomnia symptoms. When problems are more deeply rooted, you should see your doctor to discuss more aggressive therapies in concert with sleep hygiene. If left untreated teen insomnia can turn into chronic adult insomnia, depression, or other mental health disorders.

Remember sleep in teens is as important as breathing! Make sure they get the quality sleep they need to help support their growing brains.

Citation: Pasquale K. Alvaro, Rachel M. Roberts, Jodie K. Harris. The independent relationships between insomnia, depression, subtypes of anxiety, and chronotype during adolescence. Sleep Medicine, 2014; 15 (8): 934 DOI:10.1016/j.sleep.2014.03.019


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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.




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